Just a week after Ken Schmidt started a new job at Harley Davidson, the company filed for bankruptcy. But, last month, 150,000 rabidly enthusiastic customers roared into Harley’s 115th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee — and insiders say Schmidt deserves the credit for the turnaround.
The key to success in business is simple, says Schmidt: “If the people you are serving aren’t telling others about what you are doing for them, you are not competing.”
Is your agency a competitor in the travel market? That’s the question Schmidt posed at the Signature Owners Meeting at the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island earlier this month.
His point is a well-documented management theory, called the Net Promoter Score, which holds that companies whose customers say positive things about them consistently over-perform in the market.
(Editor’s note: The reporter of this story spent about five years tracking NPS scores for a Wall Street investment firm, which based its decisions about whether to buy stock [think Bed Bath and Beyond, 10 years ago] or to sell [remember Linens & Things?] in part on the direction the scores headed.)
As Schmidt put it, you are not truly competing “unless your customers are telling their friends stories and bringing in new blood.” In the end, a Harley is not really much different from any other motorcycle. Its dedicated fans and $1,800 premium above the price of other motorcycles come down to the human desire to show off, and Harley focuses on ensuring that their customers can do that.
We all have the need for validation, to feel important and special, Schmidt said. “We all want to feel awesome.” And as the Harley owner revs his motor next to you at the stop sign, “We are talking to you, and what we are saying is ‘Look at me’ in a way that couldn’t possibly be easier to understand.”
Think about the word “they” in your travel agency, Schmidt suggested. Don’t think just about the product or the price — Harley is not the market winner in either of those categories. It wins by focusing on the customer.
What are “they” saying about your agency? What do you want them to say? And what are you going to do to get them to say it?
No one really believes what a company says about itself, Schmidt said. But, they believe what their friends say, and how doing business with you makes them feel. Today’s Harley dealerships are spectacular, and their mantra is, “Remember and repeat.” The goal is to do things that people remember and tell their friends about.
“No one ever told a story about a business that did what they expected and gave them what they paid for,” Schmidt said. “We are a joy-seeking species; the most attractive of all human traits is excitement. So, focus on celebrating the human being in front of you — and making sure you are doing extraordinary things he can brag to his friends about.
“If they are not talking about you when they go back to work,” Schmidt said, “they are not coming back.”